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Latest Preview Review for Justice Jacobs to Review

By Nick Fracaro at 8:11 am on Monday, April 28, 2008

I appreciate Leonard Jacobs’ scrutiny of ethics among his peers, but in threatening my and other bloggers’ independence in writing, he offends. He alienated himself from me when he predicated a lunch date on whether I would or would not tell him what I was going to write after attending a certain Bloggers Night.

San Francisco Bay Area-based theatre critic Chloe Veltman has published a “preview review” of Beckett’s Endgame currently running at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She does this at her lies like truth theatre blog, part of the high profile ARTSJOURNAL website.

For this same infraction of writing a preview review, Leonard Jacobs is still throwing little digs at critic/blogger George Hunka. Eight months after the fact! From just last week, here’s Leonard’s short post with the long title .

This Talkinbroadway.com Policy Surely Doesn’t Apply to George Hunka

Read about TalkinBroadway.com’s new policy on certain kinds of posts here.

So we have to expect that Leonard will hype his ethical outrage once more over this latest dastardly deed of a preview review. However, it’s unlikely he will adopt the same Hanging Judge Roy Bean persona with his peer Chloe Veltman that he did against hapless George Hunka.

Beyond being the only “Law West of the Pecos” in the theatrosphere, Leonard is also a journalist and national editor at Back Stage. So an obvious question: is all his hysterical huffing and puffing around this issue in the theatrosphere ever going to amount to an actual article? Doesn’t such an important matter demand a more deliberate journalistic approach?

Leonard and Back Stage would now have to do more than take to task an individual blogger/critic, they would need to challenge the journalistic ethics of ARTSJOURNAL for hosting Chloe’s blog and publishing this preview review. We can only wish for such an exceptional event as having two prominent publishers openly debating the ethics of reviews and criticism of theatre within the new digital realm.

Instead expect the continued attrition of the old rules without any real examination by the journalists most affected. And stay tuned for Judge Jacobs’ next tempest in a teapot as you read here the historic first ever “legitimate” preview review of a major New York performance by a blogger/critic.

What’s Beckett Without The Laughs?

When Mel Brooks said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die,” he probably had the plays of Samuel Beckett in the back of his mind.

These words came flooding back to me last night after I experienced a preview performance of Beckett’s Endgame at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York. Director Andrei Belgrader’s production features an all-star cast: the movie actor John Turturro as Hamm, The Sopranos regular Max Casella as Clov, revered stage actor Alvin Epstein (who, among other things, originated the role of Lucky in the American premiere of Waiting for Godot) as Nag, and Broadway legend Elaine Stritch as Nell. Even though the production had some vivid moments, it lacked one element crucial to the successful staging of Beckett’s full-length plays: humor.

My heart nearly broke during the poignant exchanges between Nag and Nell. Epstein and Stritch cut such frail figures. They act their parts like sighs. There is also a note of terrible sweetness in their eulogizing about the past.

Casella and Turturro are at their best when angry at each other. Casella’s fury is particularly engrossing. He seems utterly worn down and at the very end of his rope with his life as a reluctant caregiver. Clov’s moments of vengeful mischief against Hamm are similarly powerful. I had always assumed that when Clov tells Hamm “there are no more painkillers” he’s telling the truth. But Casella made me think that he was playing another practical joke on his awful boss. Standing, twisted on stage with a small round jar in his hands and a glint of malice in his eye, Casella suggests that he might be telling a lie.

But — at least in preview — the 75-minute production drags and ultimately fails to help me connect with the tragedy at its heart, probably becauseBelgrader doesn’t seem all that interested in exploring the play’s vital streak of vaudeville comedy. The last production of Endgame I witnessed, by Cutting Ball in San Francisco, played up the slapstick elements. This made the audience painfully aware of the cosmic joke that underpins human life as viewed through aBeckettian lens. I only cracked a couple of half-hearted smiles at BAM last night, whereas belly laughs were required.

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On the Lex-Train to Gómez-Peña

By Nick Fracaro at 10:57 am on Thursday, April 24, 2008

By angel I mean shaman I mean crazy fuck.

But these human souls who speak in tongues with an ancient voice go mostly unheard today. That’s because most flesh has transformed in recent years into its new function as portable media player.

On the subway trains the riders all believe their iPods are unique to their identity. But mass communication is becoming mass transportation is becoming mass media. And the mass no longer hears its flesh, its tongue. Their identities have been mediated and melded into an alien being that is no longer of their body.

“Man is estranged from that with which he is most familiar.” More true today than when Heraclitus first said it in 500 B.C..

The world is still magic. Riding the subway to visit Gómez-Peña these last two nights I have opened myself to the mystery again. I wonder if I can stay here. The border town is a very dangerous place full of crazy fuck half-breeds. I have my art form, but it’s often not enough in this realm.

The old man kept glancing at me out of the corner of his eye but no one except me would know this. Everyone else in the train car would understand the old man simply to be shouting and wagging his finger at the youngblood with an iPod in his ears.

“I don’t stink. What are you saying, that I stink! I can buy more bathtubs than you got fingers! That bitch don’t know nothing, saying that I stink. ”

Youngblood keeps lip-synching to his iPod, either unaware or unconcerned.

“I used to do some sports. If a team is doing bad for awhile, you can say the team stinks. But I don’t stink. I don’t know what you are talking about, me stinking.”

The old man pauses in his speech, winding his head around in small circles, preparing to deliver his next sentence. He speaks in a resolute manner.   “The way I feel today, I just may take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

I am the old man’s audience. I have the only eyes in the train that dare meet his.

“Yeah, the way I feel today I just may walk across that bridge. Call me Tarzan, bitch. Pound on my chest and make the big leap.” He starts to rhyme and time his speech. “Don’t be getting in my way… not today.. I’m here to play. I can take the bus or take the train… or walk, I’ll get there all the same. I don’t stink, bitch.”

I nod to him. I know the controlled fury and bravado necessary to survive in this border town. I also know that bridge he will need to continually cross between here and there. He gets off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop. I continue north. That is, norte, to Spanish Harlem.

The last twenty-some years gentrification has worked over the neighborhood at Lexington and 103rd. It is still El Barrio but my stroll to Fifth Avenue is a cakewalk. I have been the Art Whitey so many times in so many neighborhoods in this city, that I am hyper aware of the gaze that can often settles on me simply because of my skin color. As I approach the group of young Nuyoricans shadow boxing with one another at the corner of the project at 104th my being begins to transform. I begin to call the Tarzan up into my flesh and the crazy fuck grace of god up into my mind. I have been here before, hundreds of times, and survived. I’ll do it again. But no worry. The kids don’t even notice me.

I really need to get out of my house more. It’s a whole new city.

The theatre at the Museum holds a few hundred and is full when I arrive. House lights are on but Gómez-Peña is already on stage behind his card table full of props. Well, not really props, but a bottle of Myer’s Rum, and other containers of spirits, elixirs, and magic lotions that GP is ritualistically applying to himself. He is costumed both as a Mexican senorita and a Conquistador, so it is unclear whether he is preparing himself to go to war or make love.

The house lights go down and GP steps out into the stage light incanting in an ancient voice. He sprays an aerosol can into the four directions as he intones each of their names solemnly in Spanish. The mist reflects the stage light in a magical way.

I know what he is doing. He is pulling that Tarzan crazy fuck grace up into his flesh. He needs to speak in tongues tonight. He needs to speak in truth. He is facing his audience now with his spay can in his right hand. He raises his left fist into the air as if in a show of defiance and solidarity. But he then quickly sprays himself in his left armpit, and the magic spray of his ritual is reduced now to just a can of underarm deodorant. The audience all laugh, except for me, because GP is looking at me out of the corner of his eye. The old man is talking to me alone. We are the only ones in the room who hear and understand the Gringo Lingo of this song.

“I don’t stink. I don’t know what you are talking about, bitch. The way I feel today, I just may take a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.”

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On the A-Train to Gómez-Peña

By Nick Fracaro at 10:58 am on Wednesday, April 23, 2008

On the subway to see the lecture yesterday I was part of the captive audience in the train car. The goofy looking homeless guy was pulling a small kid’s wagon. He seemed to be speaking in tongues, but then a moment later, he started singing in tongues. Sweetly, insanely. He was an angel after all. I knew that only later. I knew that only after he had left the train.

If only I could find his performance again. I would attend the second time with more attention. If only that homeless alien of human society from the A-Train could schedule himself to a certain time and place as Guillermo Gómez-Peña does. I would learn from just his presence in our shared close room.

I would learn why that cruel god has put flesh on these wandering souls and commissioned them to speak and sing to us.

Have you come just to witness my mind at work?

His friends seem to call him GP.

GP walks on stage. He is wearing a Mexican woman’s black dress, a high heel shoe on his right foot, a macho trucker boot with a silver buckle on his left foot.

The only difference between a madman and a performance artist is the audience.

We are his captive audience. The small room at NYU is as crowded as the rush hour train car that brought me here.

My life now is walking the border between enlightenment and illness. I explain to a nurse who is charged with my care what I do for a living. She only half believes me, the other half of her knows for certain that I am insane.

I became a poet instead of a criminal or a shaman. Those were the three paths offered to me. Art has allowed me to act out my anti-social tendencies.

I cross the border without documents just to make a point.

I think back at the homeless angel on the subway train. He had stopped speaking in tongues when he reached my section of the train. I was in the center of the train, where the conductor operates the doors and such from that little cubicle. The cart the alien was pulling was full of little packages. The sign on it read Free Gifts for the Homeless. He was an angry angel now. Fuming. The wagon was suddenly too heavy for him to pull.

“No! No! You can’t have any of it! It’s all mine!”

The wagon weighed a ton now. But he had to keep pulling it.

“It’s all mine! None for you!”

The conductor was calling the authorities now. But it was too late. The alien had already exited with his wagon of gifts.

How many performance artists does it take to screw in a light bulb? I have no idea. I left after the third hour.

The art world is full of compromise. No one really believes it was your choice to be inconsequential. I am the existential wolf that went to sleep one night and woke up the next morning atop a New York skyscraper. I live in a community of difference, temporary retreats with howling outsiders. I long for my peers. I am the lone wolf howling at the moon, longing for his kindred pack. I would run with you. I would lick your wounds at night while you licked mine. We each have 45 scars from our art. Let’s count them again. We have no health insurance but we have each other. We are old soldiers in an eternal war, abandoned on the field, alien to all but our own.

Testing. Testing. Testing. This is the sound of my voice rehearsing. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Yet I would learn to speak not as performance artist but as that angel who spoke in the subway. He was a fellow traveler on the pilgrimage. We each cross borders, the three of us. GP, the subway angel, and me. We are the poet, criminal, shaman. I would follow him, the leader, the spirit, as audience and participant, but they have replaced our imaginations with fear.

Since Nine Eleven I have been obsessed with hope. Today one third of mankind lives away from their homeland.

No human beings are illegal.

I carry this heavy wagon of gifts. The audience is a captive one. They stare at me. I am obsessed with hope. I believe there is a place for everyone.

Almost everyone.

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Shift Happens

By Nick Fracaro at 11:53 am on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Visit the Wicked Wiki of the West behind this YouTube video and find more resources including history of presentation, suggestions for usage, and links to downloadable versions.

From text of Did You Know? 2.0

Did you know?
In the next 8 seconds . . .
34 babies will be born.

Name this country . . .

  • Richest in the world
  • Largest military
  • Center of world business and finance
  • Strongest education system
  • Currency the world standard of value
  • Highest standard of living

Great Britain. In 1900.

2006 college graduates
How many 2006 college graduates in India speak English?
In 10 years it is predicted that the number on English speaking country in the world will be . . .
China.
Who would have predicted this 60 years ago?

Did you know?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor
1 in 4 workers has been with their current employer less than one year.
1 in 2 workers has been with their current employer less than five years.
The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that today’s learners will have . . .
10 to 14 jobs . . .
by their 38th birthday

Many of today’s college majors didn’t exist 10 years ago

  • New media
  • Organic agriculture
  • e-business
  • Nanotechnology
  • Homeland security

What will they study 10 years from now?

Today’s 21-year-olds have:
Watched 20,000 hours of TV
Played 10,000 hours of video games
Talked 10,000 hours on the phone
And they’ve sent/received 250,000 emails or instant messages
More than 50% of U.S. 21-year-olds have created content on the web
More than 70% of U.S. 4-year-olds have used a computer
Years it took to reach a market audience of 50 million

Number of Internet devices in 1984: 1,000
1992 – 1,000,000
2006 – 600,000,000

Did you know?
We are living in exponential times
The first commercial text message was sent in December 1992
The number of text messages sent and received today . . .
exceeds the population of the planet
The Internet started being widely used by the general public in early 1995
1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. in 2005 . . .
met online
Revenue for eBay in 2006: $1.7 billion
eBay was founded in 1996
There were more than 2.7 billion searches performed on Google . . .
. . . this month

To whom were those questions directed B.G.?
(Before Google)

MySpace Visitors
More than 230,000 new users signed up for MySpace . . .
today
If MySpace were a country . . .
it would be the 8th largest in the world
YouTube visitors since September 2005

Did you know?
There are more than 540,000 words in the English language . . .
about five times as many as during Shakespeare’s time
More than 3,000 books were published . . .
. . . today
The amount of technical information is doubling every two years
By 2010, it’s predicted to double . . .
every 72 hours
Third generation fiber optics has recently been tested that push 10 trillion bits per second down a fiber
That is 1,900 CDs or 150 million simultaneous phone calls every second
It’s currently tripling every six months
The fiber is already there, they’re just improving the switches on the end . . .
which means the marginal cost of these improvements is effectively . . .
zero

Nearly 2 billion children live in developing countries
One in three never completes fifth grade
In 2005 the One Laptop per Child Project (OLPC) set out to provide laptops to these children
The first shipments should be in mid-2007
Kids who have never held a textbook will now hold the world
And be connected . . .
to you
Predictions are that by the time
children born in 2007 are 6 years old,
a supercomputer’s computation capabilities
will exceed
that of the human brain
And while predictions further out than 15 years are hard to do . . .
a $1,000 computer
will exceed the computing capabilities
of the human race
what does this all mean?

We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don’t yet exist . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

Did you know . . .
There are students in China, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, and the USA who
[graphic switches from: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create, communicate, collaborate]
on projects
every day
Ask Your Kids: Are you doing this in school?
Ask Your Principal: How are you helping my child become literate in the 21st century?
Ask Your School Board: Are you providing the resources and training necessary to prepare students to be successful in 21st century society?
Ask Your Elected Representatives: Now that you know all this, what changes should be made to current education legislation?

What’s your vision?

Did you know . . .
The original version of this presentation was created for a Colorado (USA) high school staff of 150 in August of 2006
to start a conversation about what our students need to be successful in the 21st century
By June 2007 it had started more than 5 million conversations around the world
And now that you know, we want you to join the conversation
Visit shifthappens.wikispaces.com

(Hat tip to Sasha Anawalt at ARTicles)

Crossposted at International Culture Lab.

Filed under: News Leave A Comment »

Guillermo Gómez-Peña in New York

By Nick Fracaro at 8:29 am on Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Somewhat under the radar, internationally acclaimed brujo-poeta, theorist, and performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña returns to New York for two evenings.

gomez-pena

The Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics and el Museo del Barrio present two evenings featuring Guillermo Gómez-Peña. After more than four years away from New York, Gómez-Peña brings back his unique style of performance-activism and “theatricalizations of postcolonial theory.” In his books, as in his solo shows, he pushes the boundaries still further, exploring what’s left for artists to do in a post-9/11 “repressive culture of censorship, paranoid nationalism” and what he terms “the mainstream bizarre.” These programs are presented in connection with El Museo’s current exhibition, Arte. Vida: Actions by Artists of the Americas, 1960-2000 and the Hemispheric Institute’s EMERGENYC program.

AN EVENING OF SPOKEN WORD ROULETTE AND CRITICAL THEORY WITH GUILLERMO GÓMEZ-PEÑA
Tuesday, April 22, 2008, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
New York University
Jurow Hall, Silver Center,
100 Washington Square East
Admission: Free

Guillermo Gómez-Peña will present a lecture at New York university in which he will examine the role of artists working against the backdrop of war, censorship, cultural paranoia and spiritual despair. In his lecture, Gómez-Peña will ask: What are the new roles that artists must undertake? Where are the new borders between the accepted and the forbidden? Is art still a pertinent form of inquiry and contestation? This lecture will be the inaugural public event of the institute’s EMERGENYC and Hemispheric New York programs.

EL MEXORCIST 3: AMERICA’S MOST WANTED INNER DEMON
Wednesday, April 23, 2008, 6:30 – 8:30 pm
El Museo del Barrio
Teatro Heckscher, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street
Admission: Free

In this performance, Gómez-Peña assaults the demonized construction of the US/Mexican border-a literal and symbolic zone lined with Minutemen, rising nativism, three-ply fences, globalization, and transnational identities. To this effect, the “border artist extraordinaire” uses acid Chicano humor, hybrid literary genres, multilingualism, and activist theory as subversive strategies. In this journey to the geographical and psychological outposts of Chicanismo, Gómez-Peña also reflects on identity, race, sexuality, pop culture, politics and the impact of new technologies in the post-9/11 era.

(Hat tip to Caridad Svich NoPassport.)

Crossposted at International Culture Lab.

Filed under: News1 Comment »

Launch Party for New York Theater Review 2008

By Nick Fracaro at 7:14 am on Friday, April 11, 2008

masthead nytr

cover nytr

New York Theater Review 2008 Officially Greets the World

Tonight Friday, April 11
at Drama Book Shop
250 W. 40th St.
Manhattan
6-8pm

Editor Brook Stowe will be reading from the bloggers interview section of the journal in-between performance excerpts from the plays. The NYC bloggers interviewed are Blindsquirrel Bloggings (aka Johnna Adams), Obscene Jester, sharkskin girl and Tweed (aka T. Nikki Cesare & Steve Luber), The Playgoer (aka Garrett Eisler), Jason Grote (aka Jason Grote), and your friend Rat Sass. I’m commuting from my day job, so I’ll be there a little late, around 7pm. If we haven’t met, and you’d like to say hi, I’ll be wearing a camouflaged RatSass t-shirt.

Be There or Be Square!

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The Rant, the Whine, and the Pitch

By Nick Fracaro at 9:40 am on Monday, April 7, 2008

What the rant and the whine have in common is their self-righteous attitude. Exhibit A: Rat Sass. This attitude allows the speaker to pose as victim to something supposedly out of his/her control. Sometimes this mind-set is attained through self-deceit, other times through deliberate hypocrisy or bravura, but usually elements of all are necessary to achieve such a judgmental stance. Of course in order for the rant or whine to find popular acclaim, the content of the message also has to be based in truth. Not so difficult a task. We are all both victims and perpetrators in this system of our own creation.

The Rant

Our friend Scott Walters has been one of the premiere haranguers against commercialism in theatre. In justifying his need to rant, Scott once compared himself to the Howard Beale character in the movie Network. And no doubt the occasional tirade serves to delineate the Us/Them dichotomy necessary to establish his tribe model.

But Scott has fallen off his game of late. Much like the Howard Beale character at the Network who abandons his populist message, Scott also seems to have dropped his Angry Prophet persona. Instead of fire and brimstone denunciations of the hypocritically exorbitant artistic director salaries at regional theatres, Scott ends up grumbling disjointedly, comparing general managers of a grocery chain to directors of regional theatre.

Scott needs to retrieve his old rant against Nylachi theatre before it becomes a whine.

The Whine

The Starving Artist is practically a Jungian archetype ingrained in the collective unconscious of many artists working today. So Jaime Green’s turn as the poor theatre worker, along with her whine at producers to lower ticket prices, is lauded by much of the theatrosphere. This Us/Them dichotomy allows an easy self-deceit where all the wrongs occurring in theatre culture are perpetrated by someone other than Us; i.e., those in control of “the system.”

Jaime has set the affordable ticket price at $20. But as Matt Freeman points out in the comments, productions by Independent Theatre under the Showcase Code cannot charge more than $20, so what Jaime is really whining about is not being able to afford a certain kind of commercial or popular theatre. Instead, Jaimie could support the theatre that does charge the ticket price she considers fair. There is no lack of such theatre. Last year there were over 1,000 Showcase Code productions. Jaimie could also become active in all the discussions and meetings around town concerning the Showcase Code reform where most of the producers organizing those discussions are pushing for an increased ticket price.

Of course the most active and productive action Jaime could take to remedy high ticket prices is what so many of her peers are already doing on the backs of their day jobs. If you really want theatre with affordable tickets, produce it! However, the nonprofit theatre producer that Jaime works for is the Off-Broadway Manhattan Class Company and when visiting their web site and seeing the $59 ticket price for their current production, I was going to suggest that Jaime stuff her blog post into the suggestion box at her workplace. But then I noticed that MCC is offering a $20 discounted price, “available to ticket buyers under 30, two hours prior to curtain.” This new information prompted me to reread Jaime’s post and its opening paragraph again.

Earlier this week I took a lunch break from work (lunch breaks not being a common thing, for some reason, in nonprofit theatre offices) and walked a few blocks west to another theatre’s box office. At the box office I handed over $40 (well, that’s what the debit card I handed over was charged) for two tickets to an off-Broadway show, which usually cost at least $60 each.

The Pitch

Could Jaime’s blog post be less a whine and more an advertisement for the ticket price policy of the Off-Broadway quasi-commercial theatre for which she is working and supporting?

The MCC box office and whatever box office that is a “few blocks west” are each acting as much like two competing neighborhood filling stations in a gas price war as theatres. Jaime claims that “the reliance on ticket sales for income cripples artistic risk-taking, but that’s another thing entirely.” I think not. Theatres like MCC earning half of its 2 million dollar yearly revenue from its million dollar box office are likely also only earning half claim to their status and mission as “nonprofit” and “charitable” corporation. Star casting, mediocre but popular scripts, and many other common denominator choices necessary to develop a sellable product are all hand in glove reasons why theatre is losing its citizenship in the community it was meant to serve. Theatre should be a process of transforming community into audience and then back into community again. What theatre is becoming instead, in many instances what it has already become, is competitor for fandom and the enterntainment dollar.

I hope the recent scrutiny in the theatrosphere of nonprofit theatres continues. Unlike private corporations, the revenue and expenditures of these are part of public record. That’s because it is not the executive and artistic director with six figure salaries who owns these theatres. And it’s not the marketing director, or even the board of directors, who own these theatres. The public itself owns these theatres.

There should be nothing unseemly in examining the salaries of our public servants. As citizens we need to make value judgments on our nonprofit theatre workers similarly to how we make judgments on our police, sanitation, and public park workers.

No doubt that as assistant literary manager of MCC, Jaime can claim partial title to the Starving Artist archetype from which she whines. But the theatre position of literary manager she hopes to inherit one day through her youthful internship has a salary of $54,000. Nothing dishonest in such a salary; it’s almost equal to $57,000 salary of the city sanitation worker, and $7,000 more than the actor lucky enough to find 52 weeks work in a year under the top tier Off-Broadway contract.

Scott is pitching his tribe model, Jaime is pitching her Off-Broadway model. And I’m somewhere in the middle of the two, ranting and whining about the disrespect “the system” affords my independent theatre. But Us and Them are all sitting at the same big American Dream table at dinner. And the split is not between us, but down the middle of each of us. We’re all hoping for our piece of the pie for desert.

slavecity

SlaveCity, 2005 – ungoing

SlaveCity can be described as a sinister distopian project which is very rational, efficient and profitable (7 billion euro net profit per year). Values, ethics, esthetics, moral, food, energy, economics, organization, management and market are turned upside-down, mixed and reformulated and designed into a town of 200.000 inhabitants. The ‘inhabitants’ work for seven hours each day in office jobs and seven hours in the fields of inside the workshop, before being allowed three hours of relaxation before they sleep for seven hours. SlaveCity is the first ‘zero energy’ town; it is a green town where everything is recycled and a city that does not squander theworld’s resources.

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